Designing the Self : the Transformation of the Relational Self-concept through Social Encounters in a Virtual Immersive Environment

by K. Brant Knutzen & David M. Kennedy

Abstract : This article describes the findings of a 3-month study on how social encounters mediated by an online Virtual Immersive Environment (VIE) impacted on the relational self-concept of adolescents. The study gathered data from two groups of students as they took an Introduction to Design and Programming class. Students in group 1 undertook course activities conducted in the Second Life VIE, where they envisioned themselves as college students five years in the future and developed representational avatars based on that idea. Students in group 2 undertook the same course activities in a different order, without the VIE component during the study period. Changes in self-concept were measured at the conclusion of the study period using the Relational Self-Concept Scale, a survey instrument that examines the impact that different social encounters within and around the school context have upon the formation of self-concept (Schott, G., & Bellin, W. (2001a). The relational self-concept scale: A context-specific self-report measure for adolescents.Adolescence, 36, 85–103.). The study found evidence that the VIE experience of group 1 had a significant impact on the students’ relational self-concept, specifically a positive change in how content they were with their social selves. This study provides evidence that the development of representational avatars and socializing in a virtual immersive environment can change how adolescents think about themselves in reality.

Published in the Interactive Learning Environments journal, Volume 20, Issue 3, 2012
Special Issue:  The Ethics of Educational Interventions in Popular Digital Technologies

Full text also available on the HKU Scholars Hub.


The Global Classroom Project – Learning a Second Language in a Virtual Environment

by K. Brant Knutzen & David M. Kennedy

Abstract : This paper reports the progress of a pilot project exploring the integration of a collaborative virtual learning environment (Second Life) with the instruction of English courses at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. An educational partnership was developed with two TESOL teacher-training courses at Texas A&M University in the US.  The project enrolled over 200 participants, with about half from each participating university. Coordination of online activities was done using the Moodle learning management system.

A large non-traditional language learning facility was developed in the Second Life virtual environment in the style of a 1950’s American diner on a private island, complete with Cadillac booths, traditional diner booths and tables, and outdoor campfire settings to
facilitate conversational groupings. Both IM typed chat and VOIP voice interactions were explored inside the virtual environment. Student behavior observed during the study indicates the conditions which result in the most productive interactions, and also highlights several key problem areas which must be addressed before successful
interactions can be achieved. This paper presents a process which has been developed and trialed, and the plans at Lingnan University to adopt it on a wider scale to support the development of language skills.

Published in the Electronic Journal of e-Learning, Vol 10, Issue 1, pg 90-106, March 2012
Conference paper also posted on the HKU Scholars Hub